“Viva San Pietro,” revelers shouted in Gloucester’s streets during the annual St. Peter’s Fiesta, which concluded Sunday. It is a festival that embraces ecstatic passions.
The multi-day celebration of the city’s commercial fishing and Catholicism and ancestral ties to Sicily—with a good amount of festive drinking thrown in—has grown to become a city-wide party featuring parades of statues and paintings through the streets, rowing races, the blessing of the city’s commercial fishing fleet, a Mass, nine evenings of prayer and a carnival. Oh, and the infamous Greasy Pole contests, in which costumed men vie to be the first to traverse a 40-odd-foot-long telephone pole slathered with grease and grab a flag off the end. Bangs and bruises and even the occasional busted rib are not unusual parts of the contest. But unending glory is showered upon the man who survives the gauntlet.
The festival began in 1926, when a Gloucester fishing captain by the name of Salvatore Favazza commissioned a Charlestown sculptor to fashion a statue of St. Peter, the patron saint of Catholic fishermen. The statue remains the centerpiece of the annual St. Peter’s Fiesta, much like celebrations in Favazza’s native Sicily, honoring and thanking the saint for his protection and support.
Previously: Photos of the 2013 St. Peter's Fiesta. Greg Cook is co-founder of WBUR’s ARTery. Follow him on Twitter @AestheticResear and be his friend on Facebook. The St. Peter’s Fiesta officially opens on Friday evening with men carrying the statue of St. Peter around Gloucester’s downtown and then to the altar on the waterfront in St. Peter’s Square (in the background here), where the statue resides for much of the festival. (Greg Cook) Dressed all in white, men carry the St. Peter statue through Gloucester’s downtown during Sunday’s religious procession. It is one of the many statues and icons featured in the parade—most representing the patron saints of residents’ ancestral homelands in Sicily, Portugal and Brazil. (Greg Cook) Men carry the Mother of Grace statue during Sundays’ religious procession throughout Gloucester’s downtown. (Greg Cook) Sunday’s procession winds past St. Ann’s Church. (Greg Cook) Balloons and confetti frame the Madonna of the Annunziata during a pause in Sunday’s procession at Big Noni’s annual St. Peter’s Fiesta celebration on Prospect Street. (Greg Cook) A girl takes a break from throwing confetti out the window of the Mother of Grace Club in Gloucester during Sunday’s religious procession. The club was founded during World War II to pray that their men would come home safe from the fighting. (Greg Cook) Shouting blessings for the Madonna Del Lume during Sunday’s procession. (Greg Cook) St. Alfio’s Band of Lawrence is the (shall we say) official band of the Fiesta parades—playing tunes ranging from “When the Saints Go Marching In” to the Italian national anthem. (Greg Cook) Confetti showers down upon the Madonna Del Lume icon during Sunday’s procession. (Greg Cook) A new group, honoring Padre Pio, joined this year’s Sunday procession. (Greg Cook) Men wrap donations around the Mother of Grace statue during the procession. (Greg Cook) All the statues and icons are lined up in front of Our Lady of Good Voyage for blessings from a priest. (Greg Cook) One of the traditions of the Sunday procession is for younger members of the community to carry oars painted with the names of ships that have been in the Gloucester commercial fishing fleet—including, here, the Andrea Gail, which was lost with all hands in the “Perfect Storm” of 1991. These young women shout blessings at the end of the procession in front of the St. Peter’s Club on Rogers Street, where the St. Peter statue resides most of the year. (Greg Cook) The Greasy Pole competition was imported from Sicily. In Gloucester’s version, costumed men try to walk to the end of a grease-covered (roughly) 40-foot-long telephone and win by grabbing the flag off the end. Most slip and spill into the harbor waters well before reaching the flag. Hundreds watch from boats anchored off shore while thousands watch from Pavilion Beach. (Greg Cook) Tom Favazza (left) and Bob Scola balance atop scaffolding on a barge tied to the Greasy Pole platform at high tide. They’re preparing the wooden pole for the Saturday competition by slathering it with a fiendishly gross and slippery concoction of vegetable oil, shortening, and a 120 pound barrel of “all purpose food machinery grease.” (Greg Cook) Greasy Pole walkers ride out to the competition platform in various wacky costumes, but the competition itself is deadly serious. (Greg Cook) A Greasy Pole walker gets close to the flag—but not close enough—during Friday’s competition. (Greg Cook) Jack Russ dives to grab the flag and win the Friday Greasy Pole contest. (Greg Cook) Kyle Berry grabs the flag to win the Saturday Greasy Pole contest. (Greg Cook) Kyle Berry falls from the end of the pole—and loses hold of the flag—as he wins Saturday’s Greasy Pole contest. (Greg Cook) Revelers on the flotilla celebrate as Kyle Berry wins the Greasy Pole competition on Saturday. (Greg Cook) Jack Russ is carried up to Pavilion Beach on the shoulders of fellow Greasy Pole walkers after winning the Friday competition. (Greg Cook) “Besides my kids being born, this is the best time of my life,” says Mark Allen, here being carried up Beach Court after winning the returning-champions’ round of the Greasy Pole competition on Sunday. (Greg Cook) Last year, Frank Pacheco cracked a rib during a bad fall in the Greasy Pole competition, but kept taking his turn until someone else grabbed the flag. “I’m not a quitter,” he says. This Saturday, he was back on the pole to compete. He didn’t win, but at the end swam in to Pavilion Beach, met Laurie Lindsey, the mother of their 6-year-old daughter Arianna, and asked her to marry him. “I said, ‘I love you baby. I love you just as much at the Greasy Pole. Marry me,’” he says. “This is my life, She’s my life.” She said yes. (Greg Cook) Amy Belcher (left) and her sister Robyn McNair (left) have become known as the “Crazy Hat Ladies” for the elaborate headgear they make and wear to the Fiesta each year featuring miniature replicas of Fiesta landmarks from the Greasy Pole contest (on Belcher’s hat) and the altar and carnival (on McNair’s hat). (Greg Cook) Noah McNair (left) and his cousin Jacob Belcher carry a replica of the festival’s St. Peter statue during the “Orchard Street Annual Fiesta Celebration.” The celebration was founded by Noah’s mother Robyn McNair (at right, shouting blessings) and her sister Amy Belcher. This mini Fiesta within the big Fiesta keeps getting bigger and better. This year’s march included a drummer, bagpiper and several actual Greasy Pole walkers. (Greg Cook) Rowers compete in three-boat heats in the seine boat races, derived from a boat used for encircling fish with nets during the age of sail. The race is a half-mile sprint out from shore to a flag and then a half mile back to finish at the beach. (Greg Cook) Confetti showers down up on the St. Peter statue during the 11 p.m. procession through the waterfront Fort neighborhood (where the Sicilian immigrant fishermen who founded the Fiesta first settled in Gloucester) that closes the Fiesta on Sunday. (Greg Cook)